PubhD Preview: An Interview with Michelle Strickland

Words: Gav Squires
Illustrations: Raphael Achache
Monday 17 September 2018
reading time: min, words

PubhD is back at The Vat & Fiddle on Tuesday - we sat down with one of the speakers, Michelle Strickland, to learn about how she has been preparing


Without giving too much of your talk away, can you give us a quick description of your research?

I research spider silk to better understand how it has evolved over the last 380 million years, how it works (one spider uses it to build an underwater home) and if we can modify it by mixing it with other stuff like graphene. My work is intended to provide more information to other researchers, some of whom are trying to make synthetic silk which could be a really useful material in the future.

How hard has it been to distil years of research into a ten minute "pub level" talk?

It’s a challenge condensing everything down to a 10 minute pub-level talk, but this is a useful skill to have as most people don’t want to spend hours hearing every tiny detail! PubhD is, in some ways, easier than other talks as 10 minutes is a long time (check out the 3-minute thesis comp!). I like to use the question time to expand on what I’ve said - one example would be summarising a topic in a couple of sentences and suggesting the audience asks about it if they’re interested in knowing more.

Are you looking forward to the questions from the general public?

Yes! This is my favourite part - some of the best ideas and discussions come from talking with people who have a different perspective to my own, and explaining concepts also helps to highlight areas I don’t completely understand, so I can continue to learn.

How important is it as a researcher to have the opportunity to get your work out there in front of non-academic people?

I think it’s essential and every researcher should make an effort if they can. It doesn’t have to be through PubhD; social media platforms such as twitter or Instagram make it easier to contact researchers directly, or see what we’re thinking about or doing (although we don’t all keep a running commentary of our work!)

If a radioactive person bit a spider, would it gain the powers of a human?

I’m afraid that research is classified.

The next PubhD takes place on the 18th of September at 7:30 at The Vat & Fiddle

PubhD Website

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